James Riley on Jack Kerouac.
'I am a Recording Angel': Jack Kerouac's Visions of Cody and the Recording Process
'I am a Recording Angel': Jack Kerouac's Visions of Cody and the Recording Process
Record. 5a. An account of some fact/ event preserved in writing or other permanent form; a document, monument etc on which an account is inscribed, any thing or person serving to indicate or give evidence of, or preserve the memory of, a fact or event: a memorial. Pl. A collection of such accounts, documents etc. Also in recent use, a tracing or series of marks made by a recording instrument (Oxford English Dictionary 1989: 542).
In his essay ‘Bodies That Mattered’, Douglas A. Brooks analyses early recording techniques such as the printing press in terms of an ‘embodied relation between textual and sexual reproduction’:
inasmuch as it entailed applying downward pressure on the press so as to leave behind an inked impression in moistened sheets of rag paper, this procedure was remarkably akin to what little was known about human conception before the facts of life were facts. Upon penetration it was thought that the penis, like the earlier technology of the signet and the wax and the newer technology of the press left a foetal imprint on the moist womb. Ostensibly, the harder the male bore down on the female, the more likely the child would be male and resemble its father. Resemblance was profoundly important as there was no other way of determining the legitimacy of one’s offspring (Brooks 2005: 132)
Similar imagery also conceptualises more recent forms of technology such as the magnetic tape recorder. H.G.M. Spratt speaks of the ‘intimate connection’ between the tape heads and ‘the virgin tape’ resulting in the ‘reproduction’ of an ‘original signal’ (1958: 74). Brooks’s emphasis on an ‘impression left behind’ and Spratt’s description of the retention of electromagnetic particles on the tape surface codifies recording as a process of creating and imposing traces, an indication of ‘something that is no longer present yet has left its mark’ (Derrida 1976: xvii). The conflation of both textuality and audio recording with sexuality suggests also that these traces are themselves markers of permanency and sources of verifiable evidence. Just as the male offspring continues a lineage by functioning as a copy of the father, so too do sound recordings and textual markers preserve the memory of the creating individual in their absence. As Timothy Day observed when referring to the scholarly usage of audio recordings; they ‘bring the biographer into a position of uncanny intimacy’ with their departed subject’ (Day 2001: 63).
Having said this, as Brooks notes, ‘the flip side to this comfortable male fantasy’ is the production of ‘bastards; illegitimate offspring and bastardised texts’ (134). Brooks refers here to the possibility of the recording process to result in distortion; a lack of fidelity to the paternal source, what Fred Botting and Scott Wilson would call perversion, a turning against the father, (pere/version) (Wilson & Botting 1998: 187). In this instance when applied specifically to textual production the analogy initiates a shift in the metaphor of manifestation from insemination to what Derrida would call ‘dissemination, seed spilled in vain, an emission that cannot return to its origin in the father. Not an exact and controlled polysemy but a proliferation of always different, always postponed meaning’. Dissemination is for Derrida a symptom of ‘the strange being of the sign’ in which significance is generated through a structure of difference, ‘the ability of the sign to distinguish itself from other speech sounds written marks or conceptual significations’. Derrida uses the word ‘trace’ in the sense of ‘track or footprint’ to express this function, the status of the sign being both ‘not there’ and ‘not that’. Subsequently, trace does not indicate an instance of permanency or preservation but is constantly defined by an ‘other which is forever absent’. It can never be ‘embodied’, found, or determined in its full being’ (Trace described by Spivak: x-xvii). A similar process also applies to audio recordings through the generation of noise. According to Spratt, a tape maybe considered noisy when it carries ‘traces of a previous recording or has had noise introduced into it during the recording process’ (76). As with dissemination we see a postponement of meaning through the scrambling of a signal by additional recorded sound. Similarly, the idea of noise as symptomatic of the transfer of information through a mediating mechanism indicates the impossibility of achieving absolute fidelity to an original. Noise amplifies the imperfection of the reproduction, causing the recorded information to assume a trace structure, defined by the absent other it serves to imitate.
In his 1948 book, Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, Norbert Wiener outlined the theory of feedback as a means to eliminate noise in the sense of ‘communications interference’ and ‘non systematic information’ within the flow of electrical circuits. Feedback dictates that modification, adjustment or control of a process or system occurs through the return of a fraction of the output signal from one stage to the input of the same or preceding stage. This return of information allows a correlation between the actual and the intended result of a process (Wiener 1948: 67) As Arthur Koestler observes, ‘the controlling centre must constantly adjust the course of the operation according to the information fed back to it’ (Koestler 1956: 120). This self correcting system, working to reduce what was perceived as disorder and maintain homeostasis was said to result in the transferral within a circuit of a ‘precise message’ (Wiener: 68). Feedback, as Michael McClure argues, works to ‘strengthen’ existing ‘patterns’, weakening gestures of ‘desire’; Derrida’s ‘always different, always postponed meaning’. It is a mechanism against dissemination (McClure 1963: 81).
What is interesting about Cybernetics as a system of thought is that the theory of feedback filtered into fields outside of science and mathematics, gaining rapid sociological significance. Gregory Bateson’s Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry (1951) posits feedback mechanisms as essential to the understanding and operation of human interpersonal relations (Bateson & Ruesch 1951). In The Organization Man (1957), William Hyde White identifies and analyses an ideological shift in American society from individualism to ‘man as an isolated, meaningless unit’. This is said to be, in part, due to the application of ‘cybernetic principles’ to ‘the factory, office and warehouse’ (White 1957: 25-26). In addition, these ‘principles’ were also installed into the design of a wide range of consumer products, such as washing machines, electric ovens and particularly tape recorders. It was automated, self-correcting tape recorders which ran loops playing muzak into the first supermarkets (Lanza 1995: 53).
Against this backdrop of homeostasis discordant forms of artistic expression emerged such as Jazz, ‘music which had not been pre-arranged’, that which ‘runs counter to hysterical confidence in progress, machines, human power’ (Young in McNally 1979: 45). Into this milieu can also be placed the writings of the so-called Beat Generation particularly the work of Jack Kerouac and his European counterpart Alexander Trocchi. Barbara Ehrenreich has argued that in their rejection of 1950s suburbia and domesticity the Beats moved against the role of ‘Organization Man’ outlined by White (Ehrenreich 1986: 56). In his 1958 article, ‘The Philosophy of the Beat Generation’ John Clellon Holmes highlighted the targets of the current rebellion stating that the Beats were the first generation to grow up in the face of ‘genocide, brainwashing, cybernetics and motivational research’ (Holmes 2001: 220). This perspective is interestingly affirmed in the first wave of criticism directed against the Beat writers. Robert Brustein in his 1958 Horizon article ‘The Cult of Unthink’ states that the most ‘characteristic sound’ of ‘the new hero’ is ‘a stammer or saxophone wail’. He attacks Kerouac for writing novels of ‘energy undirected’, which are ‘stupefying in their unreadability’ due to their apparent rejection of ‘communication’ in favour of ‘aggression’ (Brustien: 49). Similarly, Norman Podhoretz, in ‘The Know-Nothing Bohemians’ states that the ‘bohemianism of the 1950’s…is hostile to civilization; it worships primitivism, instinct, energy’, expressing via ‘bop language’ ‘contempt for coherent, rational discourse’ (479). Each of these critics reveal in their attacks the pervasive influence of a societal trend towards order, organization and control as they identify within Beat writing and highlight for negative analysis what Sprat, Wiener and Bateson would identify as noise, the transmission of non-systematic, non-codified information via what is perceived to be an inefficient mode of communication.
This framework was also enacted in the editorial feedback to Kerouac’s work. Although published in 1957, the original ‘teletype’ version of On the Road completed in 1951 was widely rejected by potential editors such as Robert Giroux and Rae Everitt. Revisions were suggested which would result in ‘tightness and polish’ allowing the reader to ‘get at grips with the subject’. They wished to emphasize the novel’s commercial viability by emphasising at a prose level issues of ‘plot’ and ‘character’ (Hunt 1981: 124-136). To mirror Brooks and Derrida, it appears that the idea at work was to fully ‘embody’ the novel’s subject by placing Kerouac’s material within a conventional framework in order to disseminate it with a minimum of interference and ambiguity. Kerouac began to redraft On The Road but regarded the concessions as a deviation from fact producing a text ‘untrue to the imaginative and artistic richness of the [original] experience’. As a result, Visions of Cody (published in full in 1972) was begun as a simultaneous project to work in opposition to this editorial process, moving ‘beyond the arbitrary confines of the story’ (134).
This is significant as whilst a sense of opposition to these processes of control can be found in Kerouac’s novels at the level of narrative and imagery (as Ehrenreich has shown) it is possible to argue that building on this significant theoretical and contextual basis, there is a more structural and subversive movement in operation in Kerouac’s work. Specifically, Visions of Cody is a radical re-writing of On the Road valorising notions which could be conceptualised as noise, waste, and excess. A feedback loop emerges in which the structure of On the Road is distorted into Visions of Cody, producing a text in line with Kerouac’s ‘Essentials of Spontaneous Prose’ and thereby ‘the actual format of my mind’ (Allen 1993: 73/159). However, for Kerouac, the achievement of this ‘frictionless mobility of information’ (Goode 2004: 129) constitutes in itself a distortion, the rupture of textual structure, ‘the ironbound rules of the conventional English sentence’ (Allen: 159). This perspective can be seen further in Kerouac’s use of the tape recorder. He employs it within Visions of Cody to create an unmediated discourse, not in the sense of a writing which lacks what Kant would call ‘mechanism’, but a highlighting of matter over form; the creation of a text which appears to incorporate its own research notes, evidence of the process of its production. Visions of Cody seems self-consciously unfinished, unpolished in order to accurately convey ‘an undisturbed flow from the mind of personal secret idea words’ (Allen: 73). The tape recorder injects into the text a sense of orality; the ‘presence’ of speech which Derrida argues is lost in the act of writing as ‘a mediated representation of thought’ (Attridge 1992: 83). Whilst Kerouac’s method of recording appears to mirror Brooks’s schema in that he aims to create a direct trace, a faithful reproduction of the self in text, he does so by generating ‘interference’ and distortion, that which the idea of recording as insemination attempts to avoid. As Clellon Holmes states that the Beats looked for ‘answers rather than escape’ and to describe the nature of their literary and cultural revolt he states that they were like ‘a broken circuit…discharging energy randomly into the universe without a proper destination’ (Holmes in Tytell 1976: 11). Moving on from this, when considering the distorting relationship between On the Road and Visions of Cody, it can be seen as one of perversion in the sense defined by Jack Sargeant. We see the release of a ‘flux of forces, de-centred, non essential desire (s)’ (Sargeant 2001: 36).
Around eleven o’ clock Jimmy Bannon would come tottering and weaving into the shop, he would go staggering onward towards the typewriter…he would fall in the chair and hurl himself back and forth ecstatically placing the paper in the roller till suddenly out of all this tormented riot of the flesh, moaning and crying out his thoughts and his head flopping in the heat of gruesome intelligence he would begin pummelling the keys and these neat, sober and conventional words would emerge on the page… (Kerouac 2000: 39)
In a letter to the times dated June 30, 1888 an anonymous author comments upon the new invention of the phonograph. The individual states that given the ability of the new technology to preserve ‘scraps of ancestral voices and expressions’, ‘men’ should ‘obliterate voluntarily traces of themselves which instead of being useful to posterity would only serve the purpose of the dust in which useful things are so often smothered’ (quoted in Day: 45). We see the desire for recording to be a selective act, carrying out an implicit process of negation, separating the useful from the useless. Derrida in Archive Fever intensifies the idea of recording as filtration referring to the process as a ‘consignation’, a ‘gathering together of signs which is manifested in the form of an inscription or impression; a word semantically and etymologically linked to ‘suppression’ and ‘repression’ (Derrida 1994: 82). Similarly, in describing the emergence of typography Marshall McLuhan echoes Kerouac’s representation of the typewriter in The Town and The City (1950) by stating that its specialisation and ‘narrowing of sense’ moved against the ‘interdependence and interrelation’ of information characteristic of tribal auditory networks (McLuhan 1978: 79).
When seen from this perspective, the act of recording appears to exist in opposition to Kerouac’s writing methodology, particularly in Visions of Cody. It was composed using a method of sketching; writing as a means to face reality with total honesty, to record ‘facts’. Here, ‘facts’ signify ‘information at it rawest state…uninflected by opinion or programme’ (Goode: 132). As he stated in an interview with Luther Nichols, ‘The things I write are what an editor usually throws away and what a psychoanalyst finds interesting’ (Charters 1994 1995: 314). The focus on waste, that which is rejected (a version of the ‘scraps’ others seek to ‘obliterate’) suggests that Kerouac privileges that which could conventionally be considered useless. This revaluation is intensified in his methodological piece ‘The Essentials of Spontaneous Prose’ which articulate an intention to be ‘composing wild, undisciplined, pure coming in from under’ (Allen: 73). In stating this, Kerouac establishes a link with the philosophy of Georges Bataille, who in articulating his notion of ‘base matter’, desired to introduce into established systems of thought ‘something other below the foundations and in excess of the idealizing imaginings of materialist knowledge’ (Wilson & Botting 1997: 18) Similarly evoking the idea of uselessness, Bataille argues that base matter affects subjects with ‘an irresponsible expenditure of energy’. As a result of this theoretical parallel and considering that Visions of Cody functions as a response to the structures of On the Road, it could be argued that the text establishes a line of distortion towards the novel as a ‘prevailing ideal’, releasing through the recording of the Manhattan sketches the type of disruption outlined by Bataille (Phrase ‘prevailing Ideal’ from Goode 130).
This process emerges in Kerouac’s varying depiction of the New York cityscape. In On The Road the signifier ‘Times Square’ designates what Roland Barthes calls a ‘cardinal function’, a ‘hinge point’ in the narrative. It concludes an uncertainty in the text by identifying Sal Paradise’s return to the city (‘I had travelled eight thousand miles around the American continent and I was back on Times Square’) (Kerouac 1986: 102). This micronarrative is concluded with Paradise’s movement to ‘the bus’ (p.103). Between this signifier and ‘Times Square’ the communication of narrative action is facilitated through the use of catalysers, ‘dispatchers’ of information which ‘separate two moments of the story’. The ‘fantastic hoorair of New York’ (p.102) which Paradise passes through to get to the bus is designated by ‘a host of trivial incidents or descriptions’, narrated actions such as ‘grabbing taking giving sighing’ (p.102) and Paradise’s own attempt to ‘get enough nerve to pick up a beautiful long butt’ (p.102) (Barthes 1977: 93-97). The emphasis in this passage is on directed action as can be seen not only in the high frequency of verb usage but also its wider organisation. Bataille, for example, discusses ‘action’ as a way of introducing the unknown, so that understanding, eventually, can link up with a known reference and relate unknown elements to it (Botting & Wilson: 297). In the passage Kerouac compounds the ‘trivial’ details into the record of a journey, a sense of transit through which Paradise moves in his teleological trajectory towards the bus.
In Visions of Cody this system is altered. Kerouac describes the view from a Manhattan cafeteria and in doing so constructs a scene in which, as Robert Duncan notes ‘the only exterior action, besides the passing of pedestrians is the flashing of a neon light’ (Duncan quoted in Nicosia 1983: 385). Kerouac conveys the impact of exterior occurrences on the matrix of colour reflected in the cafeteria, ‘when its yellow cabs the flash is brilliant yellow streak…when it’s a car the flash is dark and shiny’ (Kerouac 1992: 33). In addition, the passage does not communicate a single sequential /consequential narrative but instead highlights a multiplicity of potential micronarratives. We see a ‘man reading the paper beside the big green door’ and ‘a cat coming from a job in queens’ (pp.34-35). In re-writing his cityscape, Kerouac constructs a collage of undirected movement as opposed to the purposeful action seen in On the Road (Palmer 1924: 67-68). Catalysers are thus privileged over cardinal functions as we are presented with the type of information that conventionally links key narrative events in the absence of those events themselves. To return to Bataille’s concept of action and, specifically, “the work of action,” I’d like to raise the question as to whether something maybe left over, an ‘excess’ energy ‘to be expended or consumed’ (Bataille in Botting and Wilson: 297). It is this excess which is released within Visions of Cody as in placing primacy on seemingly unconnected details such as the windows of ‘beat doll shops and blackdust plumbing shops’ (p.33) Kerouac ‘sketches’ his perception of Manhattan, presenting the facts to the reader ‘with as little preconceptualisation or intellectualisation as possible’ thereby circumventing the textual mediation which constructs the narrative of New York in On The Road (Definition of fact by Ginsberg, quoted in Hunt: 126). He appears to present all the details which have been excluded in order to construct the description in the previous novel.
Although Kerouac voiced opposition to the ‘arbitrary confines of the story’ a more accurate description of the focus of Visions of Cody’s disruption is that of the sjuzet or ‘plot’. In highlighting the ‘dispatchers’ the novel works against the textual methods of ‘selecting and (re)ordering of the ‘raw material’ of the original experienced event for communication to the reader. As he sates in the ‘Essentials’ Kerouac’s intention is ‘to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind’ (Allen: 73). In an early letter Kerouac defined this activity as ‘struggling against the pen’, a movement specifically in opposition to the act of writing, inscription, recording (Allen: 76). Subsequently, we see the operation of a feedback loop generated by Visions of Cody as in his re-writing Kerouac creates a clearer flow of his intended information, in line with his outlined compositional system. However, unlike the operation of feedback within Cybernetic theory, disorder is not reduced to zero, nor as with McClure’s interpretation of the term is there a ‘strengthening of existing patterns’. Instead, we see a major distortion of conventional narrative structure. Kerouac releases into the text what Barthes, drawing explicitly from information theory calls, ‘fuzziness’ and ‘noise’, a deliberate disturbance of the ‘pure system’ of textual communication in order to convey ‘real life’ (Barthes: 34).
In addition to Barthes, Jacques Attali also employs the term ‘noise’ critically. As Romandson explains, ‘Music - or noise- is in Attali a harbinger of new forms of political economy’. He proposes that each development in the wider economy is preceded by a similar development in the economy of music. This anticipatory function is used by Attali to define the present moment as one in which ‘music serves to silence, by mass producing a deafening, syncretic kind of music and censoring all other human voices’ (Romandson 2000). Attali is here giving an accurate description of Muzak, a processed form of music which in the late forties to mid fifties functioned as ‘a human engineering concept’. It was designed to protect people against noise pollution, ‘the daily sonic overload of ambient sound, chairs scraping, coughing, machines spluttering’ (Haden-Guest 1972 :10). According to Anthony Haden Guest this noise reduction process was introduced into the workplace as an advancement of time and motion studies and was intended to increase efficiency by eliminating distractions (11).The use of muzak in this capacity essentially introduced a framework in which multiple, passive consumers receive the output of a centralised music source. Various levels of blurred and intermingled noises are replaced by a single, distinguished music. Against this standardization, Attali posits a development in music linked to technological development which he terms ‘composition’. This is a practice which subverts the alienating separation previously established as it dictates that ‘musical production and musical consumption are dissolved one into the other and become inseparable’ (Romandson). It is directly linked to the emergence of commercial technology such as tape recorders and broadcasting equipment, which permit a degree of ‘freedom’ in the production and distribution of information. For Attali this process is enacted in the rise of subcultural activities such as the ‘proliferating circulation of pirated recordings and the multiplication of illegal radio stations’. Kerouac plays out the subversive implications of this ‘DIY ethic’ in his use and incorporation of the tape recorder within Visions of Cody (Baldwin 2006: 5). It functions as a compositional device in the sense of generating the material Kerouac transcribes for the extensive ‘Frisco: The Tape’ section of the novel, and as a result also allows him to install within the novel’s structure the blurring of distinction integral to Attali’s concept. The ‘Frisco’ tape section presents a long exchange between Jack Duluoz and Cody Pomeray (textual surrogates of Kerouac and his legendary muse, Neal Cassady). They often including input from Evelyn, a character representing Carolyn Cassady.
JACK: …this is the maddest joint in town…
EVELYN: It sure is
CODY: This Duluoz’s so hungup on tea we been callin that Jimmy Low all night…can’t make out
JACK: I know
EVELYN: He rifled all my things and couldn’t find ‘em, huh?
CODY: No, we didn’t
EVELYN: I know, I’m surprised you didn’t
CODY: yeah, w-
JACK: Maybe Evelyn can call him up
CODY: (laughing) - Talked to the landlady two minutes ago, she just said he’s not in -
JACK: It’s too late
CODY: (still laughing) It’s two o’ clock, yeah…I mean, he says…
The idea of composition becomes clear from this extract. Kerouac’s presentation of recorded conversation places into the text what Bakhtin would call a ‘polyphonic’ or ‘many voiced’ discourse. In Bakhtin’s theory of the carnival, polyphony carries out a disruptive uncrowning of the dominant monologic discourse, erasing lines of distinction between roles such as active speakers and passive receivers, spectators and participants (194- 206). In the same way, recorded conversation conveys a similar blurring between audience and performers, as we see from the passage each speaker contributes to the exchange (Shapcott 2002: 234). We observe such polyvocality in the positioning of Jack Dulouz. As many critics have highlighted, throughout On the Road Paradise, a textual parallel to Jack Dulouz, maintains a ‘narrative and existential distance’ from Dean, following and ‘shambling’ after him as a ‘mad one’ to be recorded (p.11) (Davidson 1989: 68). In Visions of Cody however, the dissemination of the text via a recorded conversation allows a sense of direct participation. By moving into dialogue Duluoz ‘ceases to act as a patient scribe but becomes an active agent in his friend’s life’ (69). This linguistic blurring is evident in the slippage from Duluoz’s use of ‘I’ to Cody’s reference to ‘we’ and the collective speech dramatizes the movement taking place across the whole text, the attempt to, as Davidson highlights, ‘finally dissolve the distance between Jack and Cody, narrator and subject into one multiple consciousness’ (70).
We see here a subversion of the conventional narrative voice as by initiating this merger, Duluoz ceases to occupy a position of mediation between character and reader. In contrast to On The Road which is addressed to an external interlocutor, an auditor to whom the story is told, the conversation of Visions of Cody disrupts this line of communication. The exchange is internally directed to individuals who function as narrators, subjects, speakers, and auditors to each other. The reader is then distanced from the ‘narrative’ rather than positioned as a direct recipient of information. Subsequently, as with his depiction of the New York cityscape, Kerouac’s creation of communication interferes in order to achieve his creative aims. Robert Holton argues that Kerouac’s novels define a ‘heterogeneous space distanced from the centre, standing in opposition ‘post Taylorist labour practices’ and ‘media technologies’ (Holton 2004: 17). However, on the evidence of Visions of Cody, we can see that Kerouac articulates his subversive voice directly through the conduits of ‘media technologies’. Kerouac’s usage of the tape recorder is particularly significant as Joseph Lanza explains, magnetic tape recorders were used extensively to provide music for restaurants, offices, factories and funeral chapels’ (Lanza: 53). What then emerges is Kerouac occupying the position of the artist within a cybernetic environment, as defined by Stephen Willats, ‘if the artist is to be effective and co-operate meaningfully within society, then the crunch is with what tenacity the hardware and information resources of the societal context they are in are taken up’ (1968: 34).
The use of the tape recorder to blur narrative roles can be further linked to a significant point of distortion between Kerouac’s texts. In On The Road, Paradise reveals a ‘yearning’ to regain ‘the remembrance of some lost bliss that was probably experienced in the womb and can only be reproduced…in death’ (p.118) Paradise expresses here a desire for what Julia Kristeva would call the chora, ‘that which exists prior to the nameable form of the one’, a ‘site of undifferentiated being connoting the experience of continuity with the maternal body as infinite space’ (Kristeva’s terminology defined and discussed in Sim: 296-7). This idea of a womb experience points to a semiotic, pre-Oedipal phase prior to the ‘intervention of the father in the dyadic relationship between mother and child’, that which initiates the child’s ‘emergence as an independent subject in the symbolic order’ (212).
This intention is however, not achieved in On The Road as the novel is itself inscribed within a symbolic order. The critic Macro Abel has argued that the narrative charts various free flowing lines of flight with Paradise as narrator occupying an ambiguous position, yet the mode of narration in On The Road also depends on a split between self and other; the first person ‘I’ of Paradise and the third person ‘he’ of Dean as narrative subject (Abel 2002: 251). Kerouac’s desired expression is limited by the Derridean concept that significance is nothing other than a network of differences from other signified meanings’ (Abrams 204). Hence, in contrast to the intention to achieve a solipsistic singularity, we see that the textual articulation of this identity is prevented by the trace structure of the linguistic sign. Its referential nature denies the application of a textual marker outside the defining influence of a differentiating other. Visions of Cody also conveys a pre-Oedipal language, but in contrast with On the Road, Cody’s use of the tape recorder can be seen to create within the ‘Frisco’ tape section a womb-like ‘bliss’. As we have seen, Kerouac significantly destabilises the idea of separated subject positions. This framework evokes what Barthes denotes as a ‘text of bliss, ‘one that discomforts the reader and brings to a crisis his relation with language’ (Barthes 1975: 175). An example of Kerouac’s blissed out, undifferentiated identity occurs in the passage we’ve just considered, as the pronoun ‘I’ previously used to designate a single narrator is used by three different direct speakers.
For critics such as Michael Davidson, Kerouac’s use of the tape recorder generates a significant paradox in that his attempt to articulate a natural voice always results in one which is ‘hybrid’; processed through a complicity with technology, the tape recorder thus ‘functioning less as a passive receptacle for a more authentic speech and becoming instead an active agent in its deconstruction’. Davidson continues stating that this role is intensified through the tape recorder’s role within a ‘cold war culture of surveillance’. We are told that ‘the voice one expects to hear more clearly becomes permeated with conflicting messages, the ideological static bred by surveillance itself’ (Davidson 1994: 199-203).
By recontextualising Kerouac away from this sphere to a Cybernetic milieu, I think it is possible to resolve this paradox in that his use of the tape recorder represents the attempt to generate noise, distortion, and static as a means of resistance, to an increasing social and cultural atmosphere of control. Kerouac articulates his distinctive voice through the conduits which initially appear to problematise communication. In this respect Kerouac can be positioned within an embryonic postmodern zone preceding practices such as ‘culture jamming’, currently spearheaded by the San Franciscan film-maker Craig Baldwin.
Finally then, to return to Spratt’s perception of noise as a remnant trace, Kerouac valorises this residue causing the word to mirror Deleuze and Guattari’s conception of the term meaning ‘to blaze a trail or to open a road’ (Massumi 2004: xvii). To adopt Walter Benjamin’s model of reproduction, Kerouac does not fall victim to or lament the loss of an aura but instead embraces recording as a means to continue his road, to create a space in which he can ‘calmly and adventurously go travelling’ (Walter 1973: 210-229).
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Characters in Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon, having lived through the American Revolution, recall changes in musical form in the 1770s; parallel changes in pop music of the Sixties are implied, and one of Pynchon’s characters cites Plato as the source of the idea that alterations in music precede and perhaps precipitate political change: “ ‘Tis ever the sign of Revolutionary times, that Street-Airs become Hymns, and Roist’ring-Songs Anthems,– just as Plato fear’d,– hast heard the Negroe Musick, the flatted Fifths, the vocal portamenti– ‘tis there sings your Revolution. These late ten American Years were but Slaughter of this sort and that. Now begins the true Inversion of the World” (264).